What Other Leaders Look for in a CFO

In this post, we sat down with Liz Meyerdirk, CEO at The Pill Club for her insights on what she looks for in a CFO.

In this series of blog posts, we share feedback from executives in different departments regarding what they look for in a CFO.  If you’re in the role or looking to land that top spot, here are some things to keep in mind from your peers!

Note: We use “CFO” generally and mean anyone who is the top finance person at the company (VP Finance, Head of Finance).  Some questions may apply to the whole finance team as well.

 

Introduction

In a few sentences, share more about your current role and your interactions with the finance team and finance leadership.

Hi there!  Thanks so much for having me in this blog post!  I am the CEO of The Pill Club, a digital-first women’s healthcare company.  I work very closely with our CFO and the finance team on strategic planning, capital allocation and fundraising.

 

Hiring

If you were to interview a CFO candidate (or if you have interviewed a CFO candidate), what are some key points you like to address during the conversation?

To me, it all starts and ends with the team.  It is very important to feel a connection with the CFO (coming from a CEO position) as they’re arguably the most crucial hire you will make.  This connection can come in a lot of forms, but the single biggest feeling you should have is trust.  You need to trust their judgment, their instincts, their ability to really speak their mind and that you will have fun working together.

Next, really understanding someone’s strategic chops is important.  After all, when you hire a CFO, you’re also hiring a partner who will help you make some of the business’ biggest and hardest decisions.  It’s key to understand their perspective on where this company is going as you’ll constantly come together to prioritize one ask over another. 

Last and not least, it’s important to assess this person’s leadership style.  All of your C level executives -- and there really aren’t many of them! -- need to be culture carriers.  So, besides the immediate team management, how much will this person be able to help mentor and manage the next set of leaders in your company?  That will be critical to the success of your business, even more so in some ways if you are a small startup.

Of course, I am assuming that anyone you interview will already have mastery of the basic finance experience -- both in accounting and fp&a -- necessary to run the function.  What I described is what you will want to assess in addition to having seen success as a very senior manager of all the finance functions. 

 

Is there anything specific in the candidate’s background you would be interested in?  (This can be true for all candidates you interview, and not just the CFO)

I love to have references from someone’s bosses, peers and direct reports. This allows me to have a more robust understanding of what it’s like to work with someone and how I can effectively manage that person.

I am also interested in understanding how someone has acted under pressure.  It could be a high growth company or a turnaround situation, or a company with a lot of industry regulation.  Whatever it is, it is important to assess whether that person has the grit you need to help build your business together.

 

Regular Cadence

What type of updates do you expect to come from the CFO and how frequently?

Some of this depends on which projects you’re involved in and what you defer entirely to your CFO.  So the answer really depends on your personal preference and knowing your strengths and weaknesses.  

Generally speaking, understanding your monthly performance and their underlying input metrics is table stakes.  You should think about whether you want push or pull updates.  Any more regular updates, e.g. metrics, can be automated into dashboards so you can track performance on your own and have an ongoing sense for how each month will shake out.  Really dig deep and understand what the leading indicators of the business are, so you can also be a strong partner in communicating your expectations.

The updates I love getting from the team are on progress, priorities and problems.  For the CFO and finance updates, these updates should not be a surprise and if they are, you should work on really understanding what you care about and get more information on that front.

 

How tech savvy do you expect your CFO to be?

It really depends on your business and the rest of your team.  I like having overlaps in secondary expertise on the team to provide different viewpoints.  So, if you don’t have anyone else on the executive team and you yourself are not as tech forward, you do probably want someone who can push there.

 

How involved do you expect your CFO to be in financial operations tasks (e.g., equity management, vendor payments, collections, etc)?

It depends on your stage of business and the state of the team around the CFO.  At some stage, your CFO should have a view on what they want to own and hire the appropriate team to manage what they’d prefer to delegate.

 

What tools and processes have worked well for you and your team to communicate with the CFO and finance?

Business operations, or the practice of understanding input and output metrics and the what, how and why, is a great way to interact with the finance department.  This really helps fill in the story behind the numbers you might get.

The other thing I might mention is really having strategic finance folks -- so not just fp&a -- but folks who are a bit more tied into the various business units and can roll up their sleeves along with say, growth, or the US business, can be super helpful.

 

Special Projects

Summarize your ideal experience and involvement in the company budgeting process.

A CEO really should be setting the overall company goals, and partnering with your leadership team to create strategic planning themes -- we call them “big rocks” --  that align with your product roadmap and budget. After you’ve pulled together that shared vision for the company, there’s the reality of budget and headcount, which usually leads to some revisions based on what’s possible in the short term.  

 

Generally speaking, is there an area of the company you think CFOs should be more involved in?

Finance’s leadership and data-driven methods in planning can be much more efficient and lead to more objectively scoped priorities.

Also, the CFO should be more involved in areas where numbers and dollars drive a large part of the decision making, such as customer acquisition and growth.  For example, the cost of acquisition can fluctuate quickly and the partnership within the growth and finance functions to optimize for the right short term and long term goals is important.

 

On the other end of the spectrum, generally speaking, is there an area of the company you think CFOs should be less involved in?

The further you get from numbers being a core driver of the internal processes and day to day workflow -- such as brand or engineering -- the less your CFO should be involved in the day to day.  

 

Other/General

Did we miss anything you would like to share about your experience working with CFOs or finance teams?

All I’d reemphasize is how important one’s partnership with a CFO is. It almost needs to be like the partnership between parents: you need a united front, shared values, and when the going gets tough as it inevitably well, a sense of humor so you can share a laugh.

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The Pill Club is making healthcare more accessible and more affordable by creating an easy, personal and judgement-free member experience. We are the nation’s leading integrated telemedicine platform and pharmacy built for contraception with the broadest insurance coverage in the space. Our mission is to be the most trusted health care partner for women, empowering our members through greater access, choice, and education about their options —all while delivering a positive and personal experience. Learn more at joinpill.club/now

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Read other posts in this series:

Jairam Ranganathan, SVP of Product at KeepTruckin

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